Music floated through the streets as people packed restaurants and bars, spilling out onto the sidewalks of Rainier Avenue in the warm, sunny glow of the evening to celebrate the second installment of Columbia City’s 24th-annual Beatwalk.
I had to see this film twice. The first time I was set off balance by its challenge to my expectations. The trailers for this film are misleading. The ads indicate that it is about what’s wrong with white people. It isn’t about that. So, what is it about?
Set in a majority-white, Ivy League college in the Midwest, the story tracks the 21st Century tensions among and between black and white students.
Primary characters include:
Troy: the black son of the college’s Dean of Students;
Sam: a black, female film student from a trans-racial family;
Coco: a black, female video-blogger from Chicago;
Lionel: a black, gay, journalism student;
Kurt: the white son of the college’s President;
The film’s title comes from the campus radio call-in program hosted by Sam. She uses that platform to address racial micro-aggressions observed on campus. She has also written a survival guide for black students that is referenced throughout the film.
Tension erupts when members of the Black Student Union engineer to elect Sam over Troy as Head of House for the formerly all-black student dormitory. This impacts Troy’s relationship with his father, and his girlfriend (who is the President’s daughter and Kurt’s sister). Lionel, not a resident of the dorm, agrees to write a story for the campus’ primary newspaper about the tension between Sam and Troy. Kurt is Head of House of the elite campus dormitory, where Coco and Lionel live. He is also editor of the school’s satire magazine. Coco wants to be a star and is frustrated when she auditions for a reality-TV show and is told there isn’t enough tension in her life to make it interesting.
The film uses these characters to amplify college students’ universal search for identity and place while exploring the dynamics of power and race through filters of class, gender, and sexual orientation.
What happens when a legacy of power is challenged or taken away? What is the intergenerational impact, cost or benefit, of racially bestowed power? How do stereotypes set up unnecessary barriers to authentic relationship? What role does media play in perpetuating stereotypes and in facilitating liberation? How do the politics of race impact romance? How do the combined politics of race and class impact romance? What tactics are most effective in creating social change? How does racism manifest in the 21st Century? These are among the questions the film tackles. The filmmaker balances the seriousness of these topics with a comic lightness in the dialogue.
None of the characters plays true to type. Instead, they very subtly subvert their type by responding in unexpected ways to their circumstances. My friends who have seen the film compare it to Spike Lee’s 1988 classic School Daze, which was set in a historically black college. While there are certainly similarities in the archetypes used, the majority white setting of Dear White People shifts each character’s response to the underlying dynamics. There are neither pure heroes nor villains, only flawed humans learning how to live.
Technically, the film is beautiful. The colors are warm and inviting, even in the most emotionally charged moments. Borrowing from documentaries, the film uses chapter headings. Unlike documentaries, the background for each heading is in a tropical color: mango, papaya, banana, avocado. The filmmaker also uses framed stills at the start of the film to clearly identify the student hierarchy. Frames formalize scenes throughout; sometimes obviously, other times in the background.
I recommend this film, but do see it more than once. I’m looking forward to it coming out on DVD or Netflix so that I can watch it back-to-back with School Daze and perhaps study the changes in generational perspective, filmmaking style, and point of view.
The magic has definitely returned to the Magic Kingdom, with Walt Disney Pictures 53rd animated feature and mega hit Frozen. The epic story follows princess Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) as she tries to rescue her sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) and her Kingdom from Elsa’s Icy powers that have trapped the kingdom in an endless winter.
Elsa has the power to create Ice and Snow and the ability to manipulate them in any way, shape or form that she wants to. An amazing power for sure, but its one that she’s struggled to control her whole life, and one she’s tried to contain ever since she inadvertently injured Anna with it when they were both young children. After the injury to Anna at the hands of Elsa, their parents encourage Elsa to remain isolated from her Anna and others in the kingdom in order to prevent more accidents from happening.
Their isolation continues as the girls grow up, and the two of them grow apart, even after their parents die at sea during a violent storm. Once Elsa comes of age she is set to have a coronation in front of the whole Kingdom. During the coronation Elsa and Anna have an argument and the emotions that stream from it cause Elsa to lose control of her powers and expose them to the entire frightened Kingdom. Elsa flees the Kingdom but unknowingly leaves it in an endless winter. Anna then sets out to find her sister and urge her to help end the winter storm of their Kingdom.
It’s during Anna’s journey to find Elsa, that the movie really takes off, introducing more characters, in addition to a couple of great songs. One of the songs, is the infectious “Let It Go,”which if you haven’t heard by now, means that you’re probably living under a rock, as its been played everywhere and even won the Academy Award for best song. The other stand out song is, “In Summer,” sung, by my favorite character in the movie, Olaf.
Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) is the sister’s childhood snowman, who is brought to life by Elsa’s magic. He serves as great comic relief in the film, mostly due to the fact that he’s a living Snowman whose desire is to live in warm sunny weather. How awesome is that?
The main cast are all great here, from the two leads, to the side characters. I already mentioned Olaf the snowman, but they’re also joined by Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana), who’s quick engagement to Anna is the catalyst for the argument between the sisters during the coronation, and Kristoff the mountain man (voiced by Jonathan Groff) who helps Anna search for Elsa.
One thing that I really enjoyed about this movie is that it follows the new trend of showcasing the women characters as strong and independent, something that animated films like Tangled and Brave have done in recent years. In the past the female characters would inevitably have to be rescued in their own movies by a male character, i.e. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, or Belle from Beauty and the Beast to name but a few. The women of Frozen are the focus here, taking center stage, and are only assisted by the male characters as opposed to being rescued by them.
I love this approach because in this day and age the long overdue realization that women are equal to men is has finally taken hold, and the young girls who watch these movies can aspire to be the hero and not just the princess waiting for their knights in shining armor. Occasionally, these CG animated films can seem to over do it by playing too much to the older crowds in inserting too many pop culture references, and too many winks to the adults (yes Shrek sequels I’m looking at you), but thankfully this film never falls into to that trap. In fact, just when the movie seems as if it may be getting a little too deep and dark for younger viewers, it saves itself by having insanely catchy musical numbers and lighten things up by throwing a great classic Disney film sidekick character, the aforementioned Olaf the Snowman.
This film is certainly one of Disney’s best animated features in years. Some have ranked it as an all time great that will live on forever, in the same company as one of the classic Disney films of the past, such as The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast, though I’m not so sure about that. While I actually don’t think this movie is quite on par with some of the Pixar classics like the Toy Story series, Wall-E, Up, or Finding Nemo, that doesn’t take anything away from it, as it is a gem in its own right.
The film passes the big test, at least for me personally, and that’s the child attention test. When I went to see this film, my 4 year old son, and his cousins were all glued to the screen, fully into every second of this movie. Let’s be honest, at the end of the day that’s exactly what these kinds of movies are for. Frozen is a great family film, with a great cast of colorful characters, great music and thrilling sequences that will entertain parents and children alike, but never forgets that it’s for the children. I’m giving Frozen 4 bags of popcorn out of 5.
Teri Youngman is an actor and movie fanatic, whose love of South Seattle is second only to that of his lustful obsession with cinema.
The Wolf Of Wall Street, Reviewed By Teri Youngman.
Excess is the word of the day in Director Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf Of Wall Street, based on the best selling memoir of infamous finance kingpin Jordan Belfort, is a film that earns every bit of it’s R rating due to its often very graphic depiction of the debauchery filled lifestyle of the key characters of the film, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the fifth team up between the superstar actor and legendary director.
DiCaprio stars as Belfort, who we are first introduced to as a Stockbroker for the Wall Street Firm L.F. Rothschild in 1987.
After losing that job due to the firm’s bankruptcy, Belfort begins selling penny stocks at a small Long Island boiler room, soon turning that firm into a huge success, by aggressively pitching his penny stocks to any person unassuming enough to fall for his song and dance.
Of course this is all a big scam, and he’s really just defrauding these folks by exchanging them crap for money, while he adds gratuitously to his bank account because the penny stocks have a higher commission than the run of the mill ones he would’ve been selling at a conventional Wall Street firm.
Belfort soon befriends Donnie Azoff (played here by Jonah Hill), a salesman neighbor of Belfort’s. The two decide to go into business together, starting their own firm and running the penny stock scam on a much larger scale, recruiting several unscrupulous characters to their cause along the way, including marijuana dealers.
They name their firm Stratton Oakmont and things really begin paying off for Belfort after an article in Forbes Magazine dubs him,The Wolf of Wall Street, attracting many more financiers to his firm along with the attention of the FBI, when agent Patrick Denham (played by Kyle Chandler) begins investigating him.
With the success comes the excess, as Belfort and his associates regularly indulge in wild parties, drugs and prostitutes.
Belfort himself becomes highly addicted to cocaine and quaaludes, and often cheats on his loyal wife Teresa (played by Cristin Milioti) who was with him well before his Wall Street days.
Belfort’s womanizing soon leads him to begin an affair with Naomi Lapaglia (played by Margot Robbie) a beautiful, gold digging piece of arm candy who he eventually leaves Teresa for and remarries.
The high life is great for Belfort until his drug addictions and FBI investigations eventually all catch up with him and his world comes crashing down.
The film is, long, profane, and…funny.
Some scenes are of the laugh out loud variety, such as a particular one in which Azoff offers Belfort a very powerful batch of quaaludes, that take a little long to kick in, but when they do, they really do.
The fallout from the scene is pivotal, but the scene itself is hysterical to watch.
Scorsese is once again at his best exploring the criminal lifestyle and he, along with writer Terrence Winter, really do a great job in bringing a vulgar humor to this film, that really keeps the viewer entertained, even as you watch horrible people do horrible things.
The film belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio who chews up the scenery here, injecting tons of energy, along with his signature charisma and electricity, into every frame, continuing his streak of amazing performances that he’s been on for the past decade or so.
The supporting cast is also mostly strong here led by Jonah Hill, who mainly serves as comic relief in his role as Azoff, but also shows some depth once the film heads to its climax, when the crap really hits the fan.
Matthew McConaughey is also brilliant is his small but memorable role as Mark Hana, Belfort’s boss and mentor at the Wall Street firm, training him in the decadent ways of Wall Street, and teaching him to embrace drugs, sex and masturbation as keys to success.
Hana also teaches Belfort a bizarre chanting ritual that he adopts and uses again and again throughout the movie, a chant that is a very memorable part of the film.
The women characters unfortunately are mostly just props in the film, without much character development for any of them.
The lone exception is Naomi’s Aunt Emma (played by Joanna Lumley), who is very interesting in another small but important role to the film.
If you’re like me than you might not mind a little T and A in a good movie, but to some moviegoers bits like the Airplane Orgy scene in this movie might be a little much.
The film is long, and the length is definitely something I took issue with, as the movie started to drag a bit towards the end, where it seemed as if 30 minutes or so could have been shaved without hurting the story.
My biggest problem however, is that there is a certain been there, done that feel to the film, due to its similarity to other Scorsese pictures, most notably the 1990’s gangster classic Goodfellas.
Overall this is a very good movie, and while not the best Scorsese picture ever, it’s certainly his best in years and possibly the best team up between he and DiCaprio, though that may be debatable for for fans of The Departed.
I’m giving it 3 and half bags of popcorn out of 5. Teri Youngman is an actor and movie fanatic, whose love of South Seattle is second only to that of his lustful obsession with cinema.
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